Photo: Tim Buss via Flickr

The County Fair bursts at the seams with family fun, thrilling rides, sticky cotton candy and zany adventures. But the summer bucket list must-do with the kids can cost a pretty penny––so we’re showing you how to live it up at this happy place without breaking the bank. Step right up and read on for our top tips to create priceless childhood memories (on a budget!) when the Fair rolls into town this weekend.

Photo: Bill Gracey via Flickr

Admission: How to Score Free or Cheap Tickets

Here are some great ways to save on Fair admission for your family:

Kids Day: Kids 12 and younger receive free admission on Tuesday, June 27. Kids 5 and under are free every day of the fair.

Military Free Day: Active members of the military are welcome to enjoy free admission to the fair on opening day Friday, June 2 (Gates open at 4 p.m.) Buy tickets ahead of time on base. For detailed information click here.

Be Book Smart and Read Your Way Into the Fair: Kids 12 and under can earn free admission any day of the Fair by presenting a reading certificate signed by a teacher or librarian. All they need to do is read ten books on their own or with an adult. If you can’t make it to your local library, you can also download the Fair’s reading certificate.

Albertsons/Vons Tickets: Buy $5 tickets ahead of time at Albertsons or Vons for all family members––valid for Friday, June 2, Saturday, June 3 and Wednesday, June 7 only.

Good to Know: Click here for more great discounts, including paying one admission price for all 26 days of the Fair.

Photo Credit: Leah Singer 

The Best Deals on Rides

Kids Zone Rides
No trip to the fair is complete without the kids begging to ride the rides; so cross the walkway to Family Funville and it’s off to the Kids Zone you go. This special area is designed for toddlers and young ones with more than 40 age-appropriate rides.

Pepsi Pay-One-Price Ride Day Wristbands: These wristbands are $38 each and give unlimited access to Fun Zone and Kids Zone rides during select days and times. While $38 may seem like a lot of money, keep in mind that regular tickets add up and most rides require three to six tickets each. Also, kids who don’t meet height requirements must be accompanied by a paying adult – so make sure you buy enough tickets! You can also save an additional $5 on wristband purchases with a discount coupon from a Pepsi product purchase at 7-11. Be sure to check the website to find out which dates the Fair sells wristbands on-site or online only.

Good to Know: If you’re an early bird, don’t try to beat the crowds and head to Kids Zone first. The rides don’t open until noon except on weekends and July 4.

SD Fair

Photo: San Diego County Fair

Free Family Fun

There are so many free, family-friendly activities if games and rides aren’t your thing. Below are the free exhibits we recommend exploring during your visit. If you enter through the main O’Brien Gate, one of the first things to see are the animal exhibits. The AgriFair, located in the Wyland Building, is a great exhibit where you’ll find a variety of farm animals big and small and the popular petting zoo all in one spot.

Photo: San Diego County Fair

Children’s Garden
This year the theme of the Fair is “How the West is Fun” celebrating the wild west. The children’s garden will be transformed into “Minor Town” where kids can pan for gold, create take home garden crafts, touch a worm, plant tomatoes, play Best-of-the-West Bingo and participate in live ladybug releases. The activities here are all hands-on and continuously running.

Photo: Cherie Gough 

The Infield is the Place for Kids to Roam Free
As you head toward the infield farm exhibit, keep an eye out for one of the most fun-filled shows at the fair: the Wild West Turkey Stampede where turkeys race around a track following after a remote control monster truck. The turkeys’ owner and MCs of the show are hilarious!

A new daily competition of pitch ‘n win horseshoes can be found adjacent to the Kid Zone Rides. Wear your boots and pitch some horseshoes with the family daily.

The Farm is the perfect place for kids to let off steam. If you love to garden, you can find ideas for growing vegetables and saving water. There are many fun exhibits for the whole family here. Learn how composting with worms can go from gross to grand while improving your soil. Encounter exotic animals up-close. Explore a free flight butterfly enclosure. The farm also holds daily old-fashioned, family-fun games like a corn husking contest and the World of Horses where future cowgirls can try their hand with a lasso or gaze at beautiful horses.

Little crafters or cooks can enter a 1-day contest and showcase anything from Cowboy vs. Zombies catapults to Wild West Jewelry to favorite chocolate recipes. Just bring your item to the Creative Youth Exhibit between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the day of the contest along with the entry form.

Good to Know: Any youth contest participant will receive free entry to the fair on the day of their contest. Everyone’s a winner!

The Creative Youth tent is more than just a youth art exhibit (though it’s so cool to look for a friend’s artwork here). There are places to get creative such as the STEAM Explorations, Maker Lab (Open 4-6 p.m. daily) and Cowboy/Cowgirl Creation Station featuring recycled wearable art offered every 1/2 hour from 12-2 p.m. and 4- 6:30 p.m. daily. Work in a little quiet time by watching a magic show or participating in daily story time with a local author at 3:30 p.m. Or get competitive with an old-fashioned game of Bingo.


Photo: San Diego County Fair

Save Cash: Pack a Picnic/Spring for a Snack

Save some cash and please picky eaters by bringing your own lunch to the fair. No questions are asked if you tote in outside food for kids who love to snack or for those with food allergies, but note that only factory-sealed drinks or empty water bottles are allowed into the Fair. Enjoy your picnic inside the beautiful Paul Ecke Garden Show where you’ll find plenty of tables, chairs and benches under the shade. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by landscaping to inspire ideas for your next garden makeover and there are plenty of kid-friendly areas for little ones to explore. If your kids really want to sink their teeth into that famous food of the Fair, spring for an afternoon treat making its debut this year: the Ninja Pizza Cupcake comprised of tomato spice cake, caramel mascarpone buttercream and candied pepperoni!

Good to Know: Look for the ‘Kids’ Meal Deal’ sign at various food booths where kids can score an entrée, side dish and soft drink for $5.99. Additionally, kids will get a free piece of Coco’s pie if they participate in the daily Pie Eating Contest.

Save Money on Parking

The convenience of parking at the fairground will cost you $13 cash. But you can park free every day at Horsepark. Shuttle buses run continuously from one hour before gates open to one hour following gate closure and drop off in front of the main O’Brien Gate. On weekends and select days, you can park free at MiraCosta College and Torrey Pines High School with shuttle service too. For more information about parking shuttles, click here.

For public transportation options, including the Fair Tripper pass, a great value which includes fair admission and a ride on the Coaster, click here.

The San Diego County Fair runs June 2 through July 4, 2017 (closed Mondays and the first three Tuesdays).

San Diego County Fair
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, Ca 92014
858-755-1161
Online: sdfair.com

What tips do you have for saving some dough at the San Diego County Fair? Please share in the comments.

–– Cherie Gough